Play Activities

CHILDREN OFTEN PLAYED on the sidewalks and many ran in the streets. No one feared them getting run over, unless by an occasiona1 runaway horse. Usually, this only happened when an animal became frightened by some freak or loud noise or saw something strange. In that case, the horse's beating hoofs and spectators yelling, "runaway horse!" usually gave the children ample warning to move from harm's way.
 
Most of the time, some men would see the dashing animal, rush into the street, grab him by the bridle and stop him before he went too far or did too much damage. It was amazing how few horses really became runaways. Usually a driver would jump down from his buggy or wagon and leave the animal standing unattended in the street. A few men would take time to attach a heavy hitching block, which was carried in the vehicle, to the horse's bridle. It acted as a sort of deterrent to keep the horse from wandering.
 
Most horses stood patiently for a long time, only occasionally reaching over to nip a few weeds or munch a bit of grass growing along the road. Some men, particularly those engaged in professions, hired young boys as their drivers. The young fellows kept the horses in check when the men had to remain in one place for a long time. To most boys the job was a delight because looking after a horse was fun to them.
 
Boys delighted in catching a ride on the back of wagons. I remember how a crowd of them would wait for a wagon to come down the hill near our house. A wagon that carried lumber was the preferred kind because it had a tongue-like structure that stuck out behind and gave the hands of the riders something to grasp easily. While the wagon was rolling along at a fast pace they would rush out for a swing on the back of it. Sometimes one would miss and get left; then we would selfishly call to the driver, "Cut behind! Cut behind!"
 
Most drivers would let the boys ride, but when the load got too heavy they would grab their whips and swing wildly at them. The boys would laugh, jump off and get ready to swing on the next wagon that happened by.
 
My youngest brother often participated in this rather hazardous play much against my mother's desire. She had warned him over and over that it was dangerous play, but he and the other boys didn't think so. They thought it was great fun and kept at it whenever they could do so conveniently.
 
Another favorite spot that many boys enjoyed was an old creek nestled down between the hills behind Brooklyn. The boys were warned by their parents and police officers to stay away from this swimming hole but having no other place to swim, many boys continued to go there. In fact, the place had been labeled a health hazard as one boy in the community was believed to have contracted typhoid fever while swimming in this water. But this knowledge hadn't the slightest deterring effect upon this young generation. At every opportunity, especially on Saturdays they would meet at the swimming hole, strip off their clothes and plunge in for an exciting swim.
 
On this particular day they were nude and their clothes were sprawled on the bank or hanging on trees and bushes. They were yelling and laughing and having a wonderful time splashing and playing in the water. Someone must have tipped off the police that the boys were in the creek because their stealthy approach was so successful. The boys didn't see the police in time to scramble out. When someone yelled, "Here comes the police!" and the rest of the boys looked up, they were surrounded by the law.
 
Several of the boys managed to get out in a mad scramble, grab a piece of clothing and get away, but one small boy was so frightened that he forgot to try for a single piece of clothing. He departed for home in his birthday suit. He ran down the road as if every demon in the world was after him. He did not stop until he was safely in the confines of his mother's house. Other boys reported that he ended up under his mother's bed where he remained for what he thought was a sufficient period of time to ensure his safety before he dared come out to face the world again.
 
I don't know whether this raid broke up the joys of the old swimming hole or not, but grown men who were children then have fun remembering this speedy run home from the old swimming hole on the hill.
 
Hoop racing was another popular game in the streets or on the sidewalks. A hill was above our home, and because of the steep grade this part of the street became the site of hoop races quite often.
 
The hoops that boys used were iron bands that had once bound the wooden staves of hogsheads in place. For some reason (usually the hogsheads had fallen apart from getting too dry) the hoops had been discarded and had come into the boys possession. Sometimes the hoops were enormous, and sometime they were not so large. The hoop size depended upon the size of the barrel that it had encircled. But the size of the hoop took nothing away from the enthusiasm of the participants once a race began. A stick made of bent wire or of wood was held tightly to guide the hoop and make it execute the desired tricks.
 
Some ingenious boys who desired special recognition as they raced would entwine strips of brightly colored tissue paper around their hoops. These decorated hoops always added a bit of the Mardi Gras feeling to the occasion.
 
Most boys were adept at hoop rolling. No present-day car derby can afford more fun than when a group of boys charged wildly down the hill at full speed with their eyes rolling and voices yelling as loudly as possible.
 
Neighborhood boys also gathered frequently under the back part of my mother's house. My youngest brother was quite gregarious and had friends of all types and colors. He seldom walked through the neighborhood alone. A long line of boys was always straggling behind him as he walked home. They gathered together almost every day for a session under our house.
 
As I think about them now the marvelous part of their association is how peacefully they got along together. They had a few spats occasionally or passed a few licks, but nobody seemed to ever think of engaging in a really hard cruel fight. They just seemed to thoroughly enjoy being together. No doubt this ability to get along well together was a reflection of the wholesome family life that they enjoyed.
 
Their games were usually marbles, mumbleypeg and pitching horseshoes. Three permanent holes were dug under the house for playing marbles. This spot was always swept clean, and if a hole became filled with dirt from too much drainage or from being walked over, eager hands would scoop out the residue and cup the hole round and smooth so that marbles could drop in easily.
 
Occasionally during a three holed game we'd hear a few squawks from the boys about an aggie or a steely or someone who wasn't knuckling down correctly. We would always hear a cry, "My shoot first! My shoot first this time!"
 
The boy who owned one or two steelies was in a class by himself. These metal marbles were heavy and seemed to roll in a hole easily as well as hit lighter on glass marbles. Boys would trade tops, pennies, a rabbits foot and most any other valuable possession to get hold of a steely.
 
Baltimore was another favorite marble game. Boys would draw a large circle on the ground and put a bank of marbles in the center. Each player would put marbles in the bank and all players would shoot at them. If the player holding a steely hit the bank, marbles would fly in every direction and the winner would collect his booty. Of course, "for fair or for keeps" were rules that were decided upon before the game began. If not, some squabbling occurred, but these differences were usually resolved rather peacefully.
 
A supply of horseshoes was a priceless possession, and the owner of such a collection was in a rather enviable position. Horseshoe collections were usually carefully accumulated from horses who had lost their shoes in the neighborhood. The horseshoes were thrown onto an upright stick that was carefully maintained as a permanent fixture.
 
Mumbleypeg required no equipment other than an old treasured jackknife or two that had been secured from somewhere by members of the gang. The jackknives which usually had broken blades were used for whittling, peeling apples, digging for bait, prying off lids or whatever activity the boys happened to think of at the moment.
 
The downgrade slope of our lot made the back part of our house quite high. Tall, brick pillars supported the back part of the house and the space under it made an ideal space for playing or for a clubhouse.
 
The boys were usually visible to anyone in the yard. However, if they were engaging in some mysterious act such as making away with a pan of my mother's homemade biscuits and a jar of jelly my brother had sneaked from the kitchen, they would push further back under the house out of the sight of inquiring eyes. Whenever Mother missed her biscuits or jelly suspicions would immediately fall on the group. More than likely a bit of detective work under the house would reveal an empty pan and jar, the last vestiges of their brotherhood feast.
 
My mother loved children, and she was never too much disturbed by their antics and gathering under the house. She hated to lose her biscuits, but I'm sure she was glad that my brother and his gang played there.
 
I cannot fully describe the boy's antics because girls were taboo, but from the sounds of their laughter and squeals, it seemed like they had a good time together.
 
I particularly remember one small fellow. I'll call him Cookie. At the early age of seven or eight he could have easily rivaled a professional tap dancer. One day he climbed on top of on old shed which adjoined his house and was unaware that he was in full view of our kitchen window. He gave a dancing exhibition in the nude on the roof. He tapped, did the buck and wing, and made up his own steps as if he was boneless with his arms flapping and his legs kicking. We shrieked and laughed at his performance but never told him that we saw him dancing while he was naked.
 

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